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Faculty of Philosophy


Talk Abstracts


Paulina Sliwa - Knowing and Understanding

Understanding has long been of interest to philosophers of science. More recently, it has become a topic of interest in epistemology. While philosophers of science have focused on the role of explanations for understanding, epistemologists have been particularly interested in the relationship between understanding and knowledge. Much of the discussion has focused on the alleged distinctions between understanding and knowledge. Knowledge, it has been argued is cheap; it can be acquired by testimony. Understanding, on the other hand, cannot be simply acquired by testimony: it involves a ‘grasp’ of how various truths hang together that goes beyond just knowing those truths. Some have concluded from this that understanding, rather than knowledge, should be at the center of epistemic inquiry. My aim in this paper is to stand up for knowledge. First, I argue that while understanding may differ from testimonialknowledge, it does not follow that it’s not a kind of knowledge. I then argue that there are good reasons for thinking that the notion of ‘grasping’ on which accounts of understanding crucially rely needs to be spelled out in terms of knowledge. This suggest that understanding should be understood in terms of knowledge. More precisely, I argue understanding a subject matter is having the ability to know a range of truths about the subject matter.

Mikkel Gerken - If the Word ‘Knowledge’ Did Not Exist, Would it be Necessary to Invent it?

I investigate whether the word ‘knowledge’ is “rationally necessary” in the following sense: Could we, given our cognitive make-up and communicative needs, rationally abandon ‘knowledge’ in favor of the alternative epistemic vocabulary that we possess?
I explore an account according to which the question should be answered in the affirmative. The account begins by a number of considerations about the concept of knowledge. I argue that our intuitive epistemic judgments that form the basis for our linguistic knowledge ascriptions are governed by cognitive heuristics that deploy the concept of knowledge by default. This psychological hypothesis gives rise to three inconclusive, but mutually supporting, rationales for taking ‘knowledge’ to be rationally necessary.
I conclude by considering the methodological ramifications of taking ‘knowledge’ to be rationally necessary. My central point is cautionary. I argue that answering the title-question in the affirmative provides no good reason to adopt a “knowledge first” program in epistemology. In fact, the strongest rationale for taking ‘knowledge’ to be rationally necessary sheds doubt on strong versions of the knowledge first program.

Stephen HetheringtonKnowledge as Potential for Action

Knowledge’s roles are at least partly a function of what knowledge is. Indeed, all the more so, if this paper’s hypothesis is correct, since I argue for a conception of knowledge-that as knowledge-how. The knowledge-how in question may be thought of as a possibly multi-pronged ability – to do this, that, and/or the other: to question, to answer, to assert, to represent, to believe, to investigate, to move from here to there, etc. In short, knowledge is to be thought of as a potential for various sorts of action – inner, outer, wherever. It is not merely that knowledge is a state with interesting normative links to these actions. Rather, knowledge is the potential to perform those actions. Accordingly, knowledge’s role, generically described, is to be the modal locus for knowing actions. This picture of knowledge is reached by applying a Rylean anti-intellectualism about intelligent actions, by highlighting the concept of a knowing action, and by adapting some ideas from Hume, Descartes, and perhaps others.

Michael Hannon Stabilizing ‘Knowledge’

If epistemic contextualism is correct, then knowledge attributions do not have stable truth-conditions across different contexts of utterance. John Hawthorne (2004), Timothy Williamson (2005a), and Patrick Rysiew (2012) have argued that this unstable picture of knowledge attributions undermines the trans-contextual role that knowledge-sentences play in storing, retrieving, and transmitting epistemically useful information. They claim that contextualism has a special problem accounting for our practice of “consuming” knowledge reports made in other contexts. I argue that there are several ways to stabilize the truth-conditions for ‘know’ across different conversational contexts, which allows knowledge reports to serve a trans-contextual role. In particular, I use the technique of practical explication to introduce a social dimension of knowledge that stabilizes the contextual variation of ‘know’. This proposal also indicates a new way of characterizing contextualism.

Jessica BrownImpurism and the Social Role of Knowledge

It has become commonplace to appeal to the role of knowledge in attempting to adjudicate between various positions in recent debates about the nature of knowledge. For example, it has been argued against impurism that it cannot accommodate the social role of knowledge, especially in testimony and expertise. However, impurists reply that purism is ill-suited to accommodate the role of knowledge in evaluating an agent’s actions. In this paper I examine the objection that impurism cannot accommodate the social role of knowledge.

Clayton LittlejohnKnowledge, Reasons, and Causes

A standard view about epistemic reasons is that they’re states of mind (e.g., beliefs, intuitions, experiences). The standard rationale for the view seems to be that we need the statist view to understand the basing relation, the relation that holds between one’s beliefs and the reasons for which one believes. The main problem with this view is that it’s false and unmotivated. If there’s a standard argument for the view, it’s an argument that’s attributed to Davidson. A careful read shows that Davidson’s arguments cannot support the standard view. I’ll discuss two alternative accounts of epistemic reasons, defend one of them, and explain why this account threatens to undermine some commonly held views about the relationship between justification and knowledge.