, Volume 70, Issue 2, pp 271–281 | Cite as

Sensitivity Theory and the Individuation of Belief-Formation Methods

Original Article


In this paper it is argued that sensitivity theory suffers from a fatal defect. Sensitivity theory is often glossed as: (1) S knows that p only if S would not believe that p if p were false. As Nozick showed in his pioneering work on sensitivity theory, this formulation needs to be supplemented by a further counterfactual condition: (2) S knows that p only if S would believe p if p were true. Nozick further showed that the theory needs a qualification on the method used to form the belief. However, when these complications are spelled out in detail, it becomes clear that the two counterfactuals are in irresolvable tension. To jibe with the externalist intuitions that motivate sensitivity theory in the first place, (1) needs a fine-grained grouping of belief-formation methods, but (2) needs coarse-grained grouping. It is therefore suggested that sensitivity theory is in dire straits: either its proponents need to provide a workable principle of method individuation or they must retrench and give up their claims to providing sufficient conditions for knowledge.


Fourth Condition Close World Counterfactual Condition Sensitivity Theory Dire Strait 



I would like to thank Michael Levin and two anonymous referees for their helpful comments on drafts of this paper.


  1. Goldman, A. (2005). Discrimination and perceptual knowledge. In S. Bernecker & F. Dretske (Eds.), Knowledge (pp. 86–102). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Harman, G. (1973). Thought. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Levin, M. Sensitivity training. Erkenntnis (forthcoming).Google Scholar
  4. Lewis, D. (1973). Counterfactuals. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Nozick, R. (1981). Philosophical explanations. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Quine, W. V. O. (1981). Theories and things. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.c/o Program in PhilosophyCUNY Graduate CenterNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations