In this post I want to explain my concept of discursive closure. As example I can use the Gettier problem. Every topic one might choose excludes other topics. That’s inevitable. But it makes a difference, of course, how people are talking about a specific subject. If they are talking about it in a way that produces the Impression that other aspects of the same problem do not even exist or are not relevant all, it is a case of discursive closure. Discursive closure, in my Definition, means that a certain discourse of a certain class of persons draws a borderline around the problem inhibiting to understand the problem in other contexts or simply to understand it differently. In short, discursive closure closes a problem towards new and other ideas.
Take for instance the Gettier problem: which problems does it exclude? First and foremost it excludes the problem of the quantity of knowledge. That’s clear, because the Gettier problem is about propositional knowledge. It asks what it means to know one single proposition.
But what, if you make the experience that other people deny you knowledge because of the fact that you do not know all about a certain subject? I vividly remember the experience at the beginning of my philosophy studies at the University of Vienna when in a class on Plato’s Phaedrus I heard the statement that Plato should be read in Greek in order to be properly understood. This statement shocked me because it devaluated in advance the knowledge we were about to acquire in this specific class.
It happens quite often that knowledge is devaluated because a person does not possess all or, at least, very much knowledge about a specific discipline or field of research. Actually, we are attributing knowledge to experts because they know a lot about their field of expertise. To be an expert does not mean to know one specific proposition and to be sure about it but to know many things about a certain field of knowledge. And we take the mass of known propositions concerning a certain field of knowledge as warrant for validity of specific propositions and of the epistemic judgements of the expert.
Or take another example: in the method of Structuralism, one should know and make explicit all relations inside a specific field of (e.g. social) relationships in order to determine the character of one specific relation or action of a subject inside this field. This methodological requirement produces the meed for a lot of work in research and privileges the more hardworking scientist and the one with the more comfortable access to the data before the more intelligent one.
If you have problems of that kind and you come to the Gettier problem, then there is just no possible way to thematize them. Imagine that because of this problem you feel the urge to talk about knowledge. When you arrive at the experts of knowledge, the first thing they might do is ask the question “What is knowledge?” and respond to it with the Standard Analysis of Knowledge (Knowledge is justified true belief.). The next step will already the objections to the Standard Analysis of Knowledge brought forward by Edward Gettier’s counterexamples and the many responses to it by other philosophers.
When this happens you are already trapped. You might want to say: “But I want to talk about a different problem concerning knowledge.” And the others might respond: “Talking about such an important problem like that of knowledge, you have to start at the beginning – and the beginning is the Standard Analysis of Knowledge and the Gettier problem.” If you take them seriously you will become old before arriving at discussing YOUR problem.
Of course I know that Analytical Philosophy is something like the ideology of common sense. Like common sense is convinced that the human being is capable to perceive and know one specific thing in the world without all the other things (Quine is an exception here.), Analytical philosophy, too, starts with simple elements in order to study them in more complex combinations later on. That means, this is a certain Approach. Each philosophical school has its specific approach and as such it is ok to begin the study of the concept of knowledge by studying the knowledge of single propositions.
But even though I would kindly ask to keep in mind the concept of discursive closure. It easily might be forgotten that beginning with simple objects is only the approach of a specific philosophical school. It can easily happen that the conviction gains the upper hand “that this just has to be done like that” or that in this field of knowledge just one specific approach is valid.
When this happens many people will not be able to formulate and discuss their problems in philosophy, and also those people will become professional philosophers who have right kind of problems that fit into the framework of allowed or accepted problems of their discipline.
This is why we should remember the concept of discursive closure which assures us that every problem or question – like, for instance, the Gettier problem – is not just there to be solved, but also to cover up and to make invisible other problems and questions.
We can only always talk about one thing at the same time. But that does not mean that there are no other things at the same time.