A natural way to think about epistemic normativity is in terms of evidence. It is a good thing, epistemically speaking, to have evidence in favor of one's beliefs, and a bad thing to have evidence against one's beliefs. So much is platitudinous. A number of philosophers, however, have thought that the notion of evidence is absolutely central to knowledge-relevant normativity. Specifically, they have thought that whether a belief has k-normative status is entirely a function of one's evidence. Put differently: the facts about k-normative status supervene on the facts about evidence.
This sort of approach in epistemology is appropriately labeled “evidentialism.” Keeping in mind that we are interested in knowledge-relevant normativity specifically, let us call this approach to epistemic normativity “k-evidentialism” (or KE).
KE. The facts about k-normative status supervene on the facts about evidence.
Among contemporary philosophers, Earl Conee and Richard Feldman come closest to explicitly endorsing k-evidentialism. First, Conee and Feldman famously endorse evidentialism about “epistemic justification,” where the latter notion marks an important part of the full normative status required for knowledge. Here are some typical passages:
As we understand it, evidentialism is a view about the conditions under which a person is epistemically justified in having some doxastic attitude toward a proposition. It holds that this sort of epistemic fact is determined entirely by the person's evidence. In its fundamental form, then, evidentialism is a supervenience thesis according to which facts about whether or not a person is justified in believing a proposition supervene on facts describing the evidence that the person has.
Some years ago, G. E. Moore held up one hand and then another, and claimed to have thereby proved that external things exist. Moore's subsequent paper, “Proof of an External World,” has since evoked a variety of responses from philosophers, including bafflement, indignation, and sympathetic reconstruction.
Philosophers have disagreed not only about the success of Moore's alleged proof, but also over what Moore was trying to do in the first place. For example, some have interpreted Moore as an ordinary language philosopher. According to Norman Malcolm, “The essence of Moore's technique of refuting philosophical statements consists in pointing out that these statements go against ordinary language.” Alice Ambrose took a similar view:
It is clear that Moore is in effect insisting on retaining conventions already established in the language about the usage of the words “know” and “believe,” and that the consequence of what he says is the preservation of the linguistic status quo.
As Barry Stroud points out, however, Moore effectively repudiates any such interpretation. In Moore's reply to Ambrose, he says flatly: “I could not have supposed that the fact that I have a hand proved anything as to how the expression ‘external objects’ ought to be used.”
Stroud's interpretation of Moore's proof seems no more plausible, however. According to him, the question as to whether we know anything about the external world can be taken in an internal or an external sense.
Internalism comes in many varieties, not all of which are relevant to present purposes. In this chapter, I am interested in internalism about epistemic normativity, or the full normative status that is required for knowledge. This is because I am here defending a virtue-theoretic account of such, and internalism about epistemic normativity seems incompatible with that account. A virtue-theoretic account, after all, emphasizes the importance of causal and other modally strong features of belief, and these sorts of features have been treated as paradigmatically externalist. An internalist account, of the sort I am considering here, claims that such features are not relevant, or not centrally relevant, to issues of epistemic normativity.
In Section 1 I clarify the internalist thesis, arguing that a particular formulation of the thesis is apropos. In Section 2 I present an argument against internalism so understood. In Section 3 I consider some ways that an internalist might respond.
WHAT IS INTERNALISM?
Let us begin with some stipulative definitions. By “knowledge-relevant normative status” I mean the sort of normative status (whatever it is) that is required for knowledge. For short, we can call this “k-relevant normative status” or simply “k-normative status.” By “internalism” I mean the thesis that, in some important sense, knowledge-relevant normative status is entirely a function of factors internal to the knower. We get varieties of internalism depending on how the notion of “internal to the knower” is understood. For now, I want to consider a version of “Privileged Access Internalism” (I-PA).
THE CENTRAL THESIS
The central thesis of this book is that knowledge is a kind of success from ability. Let us suppose, with Aristotle, that the intellectual virtues are abilities. Then knowledge is a kind of success from virtue. This is a thesis about what knowledge is. More specifically, and more importantly, it is a thesis about the sort of normative status that knowledge requires. The thesis, then, is that knowledge is an instance of a more general normative phenomenon – that of success through ability (or success through excellence, or success through virtue).
Adopting this thesis allows progress on a range of epistemology's problems. Some of these are “problems for everyone.” That is, they are perennial problems of the field that any adequate theory of knowledge must address. Others are “problems for reliabilism.” That is, they are problems that arise for reliabilist theories of knowledge in particular, and that must be addressed if reliabilism is to be a viable approach in epistemology. To that extent, the book can be viewed as an extended defense of reliabilism as a theory of knowledge. In effect, the present approach shows how knowledge can be normative within a reliabilist framework.
Knowledge is a kind of success from ability. This is intended as both an account of knowledge and an account of epistemic normativity. Is it intended as an “analysis” of knowledge? Not in any traditional sense.
In Plato's Meno, Socrates raises a question about the value of knowledge. Why is knowledge valuable? Or perhaps better, What is it that makes knowledge valuable? Jonathan Kvanvig argues that this question is as important to epistemology as Socrates' question about the nature of knowledge, or what knowledge is. Any adequate epistemology must answer both the nature question and the value question. In fact, Kvanvig argues, the two questions interact: If a theory of knowledge does a poor job answering the value question, then that counts against its answer to the nature question. Likewise, if a theory does a good job explaining the value of knowledge, that counts in favor of its answer to the nature question. This seems exactly right. Put another way, the value question is at the heart of the project of explanation. The task of explaining what knowledge is involves the task of explaining why knowledge is valuable.
Before looking more closely at Plato's question in the Meno, however, we should distinguish it from a different question that we have already answered: Why is the concept of knowledge valuable? Our answer to that question was that the concept plays valuable roles in the lives of information-using, information-sharing beings such as ourselves. The human form of life demands good information and the reliable flow of that information. The concept of knowledge, along with related concepts, serves those needs. That is not yet to say, however, why knowledge is valuable.
Part I introduced an account of epistemic normativity and defended it by arguing against some alternatives. Parts II and III continue to defend the account, now by showing how it allows progress on a variety of problems in epistemology. Part II considers “problems for everyone” – perennial problems that any theory of knowledge must say something about. Part III turns to “problems for reliabilism” in particular.
Two perennial problems in epistemology concern the nature and value of knowledge. We want to know both what knowledge is and why knowledge is valuable. As Jonathan Kvanvig has recently argued, the two questions are not independent: a good account of what knowledge is ought also to explain why knowledge is valuable. The present chapter focuses on the nature question. The next chapter turns to the value question.
KNOWLEDGE AS ACHIEVEMENT
I have been arguing that knowledge is a kind of success from ability, intending this as a thesis about the nature of epistemic normativity. I now want to suggest that this same idea gives us a framework for understanding what knowledge is. In short,
KSA. S knows that p if and only if S believes the truth (with respect to p) because S's belief that p is produced by intellectual ability.
The term “because” is here intended to mark a causal explanation. The idea is that, in cases of knowledge, the fact that S has a true belief is explained by the fact that S believes from ability.
In Part II of the book we looked at “problems for everyone.” That is, we looked at some of the perennial problems in epistemology – problems that any adequate theory of knowledge should say something about. The argument developed there was that the present account of epistemic normativity helps us to make progress on those problems. In Part III of the book we turn to “problems for reliabilism.” These are problems that have persistently dogged reliabilist theories of knowledge despite the obvious advantages of those views. Here I will argue that, once again, the present account of epistemic normativity can help. Hence this third part of the book develops one of the major themes from Chapter 1: that a virtue-theoretic account of epistemic normativity is tailor-made for reliabilism.
THE PROBLEM OF STRANGE AND FLEETING PROCESSES
Reliabilist theories have long been plagued by counterexamples involving strange and fleeting cognitive processes. The idea is that if a cognitive process is either strange enough or fleeting enough, then it will not give rise to knowledge even if it is reliable. For an example of a strange cognitive process, consider the case of the Serendipitous Brain Lesion. Suppose that S has a rare brain lesion, one effect of which is to reliably cause the true belief that one has a brain lesion. Even if the process is perfectly reliable, it seems wrong that one can come to have knowledge that one has a brain lesion on this basis.
Consider a familiar skeptical problem. According to the skeptic, all knowledge must be grounded in good reasons. But not any reason is a good reason – one must have reasons for believing that one's reasons are true. But then this insures that any attempt to ground knowledge in good reasons must be inadequate. For either (a) one's reasons will go on in an infinite regress, (b) they will come back in a circle, or (c) they will end arbitrarily. But none of these outcomes is satisfactory – none provides knowledge with grounding in good reasons. And therefore, the skeptic concludes, knowledge is impossible.
Externalism in general, and reliabilism in particular, has an easy answer to the problem. In fact, many would say, the answer is too easy. Let us first review what the answer is, and then consider why some have thought that the answer is too easy.
THE RELIABILIST'S REPLY
According to reliabilism, knowledge is true belief resulting from a reliable process, details aside. The details might include a clause to handle Gettier problems, and perhaps a clause restricting what sort of reliable process can ground knowledge. But none of these details will affect the essentials of the reliabilist account: knowledge is (essentially) true belief resulting from a reliable process. But then reliabilism has an easy answer to the skeptical reasoning reviewed above. Namely, the reliabilist can deny the first assumption of that reasoning – that all knowledge must be grounded in good reasons.
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