Knowledge and the State of Nature: An Essay in Conceptual Synthesis

Knowledge and the State of Nature: An Essay in Conceptual Synthesis

Knowledge and the State of Nature: An Essay in Conceptual Synthesis

Knowledge and the State of Nature: An Essay in Conceptual Synthesis

Synopsis

The standard philosophical project of analysing the concept of knowledge has radical defects in its arbitrary restriction of the subject matter, and in its risky theoretical presuppositions. Edward Craig suggests a more illuminating approach, akin to the 'state of nature' method found inpolitical theory, which builds up the concept from a hypothesis about the social function of knowledge and the needs that it fulfils. Light is thrown on much that philosophers have written about knowledge, about its analysis and the obstacles to its analysis (such as the counter-examples of EdmundGettier), and on the debate over scepticism. It becomes apparent why many languages not only have such constructions as 'knows whether' and 'knows that', but also have equivalaents of 'knows how to' and 'know' followed by a direct object. Thus the inquiry is both broadened in scope and madetheoretically less fragile. 'In a study full of lively, subtle, clever ideas Edward Craig gives fresh impetus to a debate which until lately had seemed stalled.' A. C. Grayling, Times Literary Supplement 'I greatly enjoyed this elegant little book. It is written with a light touch, unfailingly intelligent, fair, and lively. It also has something interesting to say. Would that all epistemology could be like this!' Jonathan Dancy, Philosophical Quarterly 'far-ranging and strikingly original... I regard his approach as extremely promising. Craig has written one of the most inspired works of epistemology in several decades, a compact masterpiece sketching a new way to do epistemology and brimming with illuminating concrete proposals. The book ispowerfully, densely argued, and it is exquisitely written. Any future work in epistemology must reckon with this unique book.' Frederick F. Schmitt, Mind

Excerpt

The standard approach to questions about the concept of knowledge has for some time consisted in attempts to analyse the everyday meaning of the word 'know' and its cognates. Such attempts have usually taken the form of a search for necessary and sufficient conditions which, when measured against our reactions to examples both real and imaginary, match our intuitive ascriptions and with-holdings of the title of knowledge. We are to provide, if you like, an explicit intension to fit the intuitive extension.

One might wonder whether, if the idea is to analyse the concept of knowledge, this can really be the right programme. As well as intuitions about the extension of the concept, we seem also to have certain intuitions about its intension, that is to say intuitions about why certain cases do, and others do not, qualify as knowledge. Thus we may feel about a certain example, both that the subject does not have knowledge, and that he does not have it because the truth of his belief is accidental (for instance). The sceptic notoriously tries to show that the two do not mesh: our intuitions about the intension, the conditions of application of the concept, in fact determine a much smaller extension than that which our directly extensional intuitions mark out. If he is wrong, the point needs arguing; if he is right, the question arises: to which set of intuitions should we give priority in order to arrive at the analysis of the 'everyday' concept? Either way, a good deal of work in epistemology and the theory of meaning (which in the light of history one can hardly expect to be uncontroversial) must be done or assumed just to reach the stage of saying that there is such a thing as the everyday concept of knowledge at all, let alone settle any question as to how one should proceed to analyse it. So if the standard approach runs into difficulties—and the work of the last twenty-five years makes it apparent that it does—it is surely worthwhile to try to think of another.

And there is another problem, though in this case it may be less

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