Epistemic Luck

Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press UK (2005)
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One of the key supposed 'platitudes' of contemporary epistemology is the claim that knowledge excludes luck. One can see the attraction of such a claim, in that knowledge is something that one can take credit for - it is an achievement of sorts - and yet luck undermines genuine achievement. The problem, however, is that luck seems to be an all-pervasive feature of our epistemic enterprises, which tempts us to think that either scepticism is true and that we don't know very much, or else that luck is compatible with knowledge after all. In this book, Duncan Pritchard argues that we do not need to choose between these two austere alternatives, since a closer examination of what is involved in the notion of epistemic luck reveals varieties of luck that are compatible with knowledge possession and varieties that aren't. Moreover, Pritchard shows that a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between luck and knowledge can cast light on many of the most central topics in contemporary epistemology. These topics include: the externalism/internalism distinction; virtue epistemology; the problem of scepticism; metaepistemological scepticism; modal epistemology; and the problem of moral luck. All epistemologists will need to come to terms with Pritchard's original and incisive contribution.



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Scepticism in Contemporary Debate

I examine one key way in which the problem of radical scepticism is motivated via an appeal to an infallibility thesis—as expressed, for example, in the work of Peter Unger—and highlight how this construal of the sceptical problem presupposes a certain view about epistemic luck. Furthermor... see more

Closure and Context

I critically examine two of the main responses to the closure-based sceptical argument. In particular, I look at the case that has been made for the rejection of closure by, for example, Fred Dretske and Robert Nozick, and examine the so-called ‘sensitivity’ condition on knowledge that the... see more


I contend that in so far as the contemporary debate about scepticism has formulated the sceptical problem correctly, and in so far as one is entitled to adopt epistemological externalism as part of one’s anti-sceptical strategy, one should reject both the arguments for non-closure and for ... see more

The Source of Scepticism

I maintain that the neo-Moorean response to scepticism is unable, by itself at any rate, to completely resolve the sceptical problem. The reason for this is that the contemporary discussion of scepticism has misunderstood what the source of this problem is, and thus even the most plausible... see more


I offer an overview of the various claims that have been made concerning epistemic luck and present an elucidation of the concept of luck in the light of this discussion that, I argue, captures the essence of the notion. With this elucidation in mind, I then identify—with the help of Unger... see more

Two Varieties of Epistemic Luck

I examine two species of epistemic luck that I claim are not benign and explain how they feature in the main epistemological debates. The first species of epistemic luck—what I call ‘veritic’ luck—can be handled with a modest ‘relevant alternatives’ account of knowledge that is specificall... see more

Cognitive Responsibility and the Epistemic Virtues

I argue that the notion of reflective epistemic luck raises important questions about the centrality to epistemology of a conception of justification that demands that one is able to take cognitive responsibility for one’s beliefs. I take a critical look at some of the recent ‘virtue epist... see more

Scepticism and Epistemic Luck

I discuss the sceptical challenge in the light of the distinction between veritic and reflective epistemic luck and argue that the inadequacy of the main anti-sceptical proposals in the contemporary literature is a result of how they only (at best) eliminate veritic luck, and thus do not e... see more

Epistemic Angst

I discuss the difficulty posed by the ineliminability of reflective epistemic luck and offer one way of responding to this difficulty. I begin by considering Wittgenstein’s remarks on knowledge from On Certainty and consider, in particular, the specific claims he makes about the so-called ... see more

Postscript: Moral Luck

I outline how an analysis of epistemic luck has ramifications for the supposedly parallel debate regarding moral luck. Focusing on the two classic papers on moral luck by Thomas Nagel and Bernard Williams, I examine the arguments and examples put forward in this regard and highlight how a ... see more

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Duncan Pritchard
University of California, Irvine

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