Epistemology and Presidential Elections

It’s always interesting to hear what presidential candidates claim to KNOW, because these kind of claims are always epistemological in nature. In most cases, presidential candidates are not justified to make the kind of epistemic claims they do, at all.

Take, for instance, the recent back-and-forth between and among Democratic and Republican presidential candidates on whether the troop surge has “worked” or not. Republican candidates accuse the Democrats of refusing to acknowledge President Bush and Gen. Petraeus’ wisdom in implementing the troop surge, all the while accusing the more dove-ish candidates in its own party of lacking faith. Meanwhile, the Democratic candidates claim that the surge is not working.

But put in broader perspective, what these candidates claim to KNOW cannot be justified. The troop surge has barely been in effect for a year, hardly enough time to know its long-term consequences, not only in Iraq, but in the Middle Eastern region as a whole. After all, Middle Eastern politics is still being shaped by decisions made by the British and the French after the end of the World War I some eighty years ago.

At this point, not even experts can accurately predict what will happen in Iraq and the Middle East, let alone presidential candidates, most of whom have little to no real foreign policy experience (I’m looking at you Rudy, Obama, Hillary, Edwards, Romney, Huckabee, Ron Paul), to declare authoritatively on whether the surge is “working” or what its long-terms effects will be on Iraq and the region.

In other words, no one in the current field of presidential candidates is really qualified to make the kind of broad, generalized claims about what they KNOW regarding the troop surge and its effects.


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