The Variability of ‘Knows’

An opinionated overview

Authored by: Crispin Wright

The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Contextualism

Print publication date:  March  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138818392
eBook ISBN: 9781315745275
Adobe ISBN: 9781317594697


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It is fair to say that from the time of the Theaetetus until relatively recently, theorists of knowledge tended to conceive their central task as being to explain in what knowledge consists; more exactly, to explain what further conditions need to be satisfied by a true belief if it is to count as knowledgeable. The widely accepted failure of the post-Gettier debates to execute this task convincingly has motivated a very different tendency in mainstream contemporary epistemology. This, influentially promoted by Timothy Williamson in particular, is epistemic primitivism: to concede that knowledge is, as Williamson puts it, ‘prime’ – that it is a fundamental, irreducible cognitive relation. Knowledge, on the primitivist view, is a basic epistemological kind, and to know is to be in a basic, sui generis attitudinal state. There can therefore be no correct analysis of it in terms of other, supposedly constitutive or more fundamental cognitive states (true belief + X). The post-Gettier “X knows that P if and only if …” cottage industry was doomed to disappointment for this reason. To the contrary, it is in terms of knowledge that other epistemic notions – justification, evidence, warranted assertion and rational action – are to be understood. 1

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