Is knowledge a natural kind?

Abstract

The project of treating knowledge as an empirical object of study has gained popularity in recent naturalistic epistemology. It is argued here that the assumption that such an object of study exists is in tension with other central elements of naturalistic philosophy. Two hypotheses are considered. In the first, “knowledge” is hypothesized to refer to mental states causally responsible for the behaviour of cognitive agents. Here, the relational character of truth creates a problem. In the second hypothesis “knowledge” is hypothesized to refer to mental states causally responsible for the evolutionarily successful behaviour of cognitive agents. Here, the problem lies in the fact that evolution by natural selection is not necessarily conducive to truth. The result does not necessarily amount to eliminativism, however, since the naturalist may consistently reject the condition of truth that lies behind these problems.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Prof. Kristian Donner, MA Antti Kuusela, Dr. Markus Lammenranta, MA Elina Nurmi, Prof. William Rottschaefer, Prof. Gabriel Sandu, Dr. Kari Vepsäläinen and an anonymous referee of Philosophical Studies for helpful criticism, comments and discussions. This work was financially supported by the Department of Philosophy of the University of Helsinki and Emil Aaltonen foundation.

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Correspondence to Tuomas K. Pernu.

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Pernu, T.K. Is knowledge a natural kind?. Philos Stud 142, 371–386 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-007-9192-y

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Keywords

  • Naturalism
  • Naturalistic epistemology
  • Causality
  • Proximate/ultimate
  • Cognitive ethology
  • Truth
  • Reference
  • Eliminativism