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

10.4324/9781315745275.ch1

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Abstract

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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