Really Knowing: An Essay on the Absolute Nature of Knowledge

Dissertation, Syracuse University (1989)
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Abstract

Several contemporary epistemologists have claimed that knowledge is a relative concept and that knowledge attributions are context-sensitive. Knowing, these relativists contend, demands on ability to discriminate the actual, state of affairs from relevant alternative states of affairs, where the relevance of these alternatives depends on what the knower, or the attributor of knowledge, considers likely, possible, or significant in some other way. Thus, with respect to non-inferential perceptual knowledge, if two individuals each base their true belief that p on qualitatively identical perceptual experiences and equal discriminative abilities, one could have knowledge and the other not, depending on the context in which knowledge is attributed or denied. ;In this dissertation I critically examine the claim that knowledge is a relative concept. Limiting my discussion to noninferential perceptual knowledge and accepting a discrimination account of knowing, I argue that knowledge is an absolute concept, that the standards for knowing do not vary from context to context. ;I contend that the notion of infallibility--the impossibility of error--lies at the root of these discrimination-relevant alternatives views. Relativity enters when context-sensitive contraints are placed on the notion of impossibility. While I accept the infallibility theme, I argue that the modality involved is best understood to be absolute, or context-insensitive. To emphasize the relative over the absolute, perhaps in order to capture the ordinary use of the term "knows" or the practical application of the concept of knowledge, is to present an account' of knowledge for all practical purposes rather than genuine knowledge itself

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Rudy Garns
Northern Kentucky University

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