Epistemic Terms and the Aims of Epistemology

  • David Shatz
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 216)


No area of contemporary philosophy has been so overrun by “definitions,” “accounts,” “analyses,” and “explications” as has the theory of knowledge. Ever since Edmund Gettier published a three-page paper in 1963 which produced counterexamples to the “justified true belief” account of “S knows that p,” philosophers have sought to formulate the “right” set of necessary and sufficient conditions not only for knowledge, which was Gettier’s concern, but also for allied notions like justified belief and rational belief.1 The result is a vast literature consisting largely of examples and counterexamples, and by now numbering close to 1200 items.


True Belief Justify Belief Reflective Equilibrium Moral Standing Justify True Belief 
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  1. 1.
    Gettier, E., ‘Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?,’ Analysis 23 (1963): 121–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    A particularly forceful critique is Mark Kaplan, ‘It’s Not What You Know That Counts,’ The Journal of Philosophy 82 (1985): 350-63. See also Isaac Levi, The Enterprise of Knowledge (Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 1980), pp. 29-30; George Schlesinger, ‘Do We Have to Know Why We Are Justified in Our Beliefs?,’ Mind 89 (1980): 370–90, Esp. pp. 373-75.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    On skepticism, see especially: Fred Dretske, ‘Conclusive Reasons,’ Australasian Journal of Philosophy 49 (1971): 1–22; Alvin I. Goldman, Epistemology and Cognition (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986); Peter Klein, Certainty (University of Minnesota Press, 1981); Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations (Cambridge, Mass.; Harvard University Press, 1981), pp. 167-288. Examples of attempts to relate definitions to other topics include: Gilbert Harman, Thought (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973); Paul Benacerraf, ‘Mathematical Truth,’ The Journal of Philosophy 70 (1973): 661–76; Frederick Suppe, ‘Afterword,’ in Suppe (ed.) The Structure of Scientific Theories (2nd ed.) (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1977), pp. 716-27.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    I’ve considered the basic reliabilist argument against skepticism; there are several variations on it. Some writers, such as Fred Dretske and Robert Nozick, try to capture a tension in our way of thinking about skepticism rather than reject skepticism outright. They want to preserve the thesis that we know ordinary common-sense propositions, but also want to cede to the skeptic that we do not know that the skeptic’s bizarre hypotheses (e.g. demons, brains in vats, etc.) are false. To achieve this split in intuitions, they work out conditions of knowledge on which knowledge is not closed under known logical entailment, and on which if the world is as we think it is, we know common-sense propositions like “I am working at a desk,” but do not know that brain-in-the vat and other skeptical hypotheses are false. For present purposes only the anti-skeptical component of this position will be germane.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Laurence BonJour has made this objection popular. See, e.g. The Structure of Empirical Knowledge (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985), ch. 3.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Goldman, Epistemology and Cognition, chs. 4 and 5.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    For further discussion of the possibility argument see the following contributions to Marjorie Clay and Keith Lehrer (eds.), Knowledge & Skepticism (Westview Press, 1989): Clay and Lehrer, ‘Introduction’; William Alston, ‘A “Doxastic Practice” Approach to Epistemology,’ pp. 1-30; Barry Stroud, ‘Understanding Human Knowledge in General,’ pp. 31-50; Ernest Sosa, ‘The Skeptic’s Appeal,’ pp. 51-68. My second parody is related to one constructed by Stroud on pp. 42-44.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Nozick (not without some deviation) presents his view this way, though his argument also includes the points cited in note 4 above.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Sober, ‘Psychologism,’ Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior 8 (1978): 165–191.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Quinton, The Nature of Things (New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973), p. 116.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    See Michael Friedman, “Truth and Confirmation,” The Journal of Philosophy 76 (1979): 361-82.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Cf. BonJour, pp. 117-23.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Cf. Alan H. Goldman, ‘Epistemology and the Psychology of Perception,’ American Philosophical Quarterly 18 (1981): 43-51.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Sober’s argument turns on the greater simplicity of the psychological realist’s explanation of the data.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Kim, ‘What Is “Naturalized Epistemology?”,’ in J. Tomberlin (ed.), Philosophical Perspectives 2: Epistemology (Atascadero, California: Ridgeview Publishing Co.), pp. 381–405, p. 382.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Swain, Reasons and Knowledge (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981), p. 18.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Goldman, p. 36.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    I provide a much fuller exploration of these problems in’ skepticism and Naturalized Epistemology,’ forthcoming in a volume edited by Steven Wagner and Richard Warner.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Shatz
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyYeshiva UniversityUSA

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