Skip to main content

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Allen, C., & Bekoff, M. (1997). Species of mind: The philosophy and biology of cognitive ethology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bell, J. S. (1964). On the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox. Physics, 1, 195–200.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bell, J. S. (1966). On the problem of hidden variables in quantum mechanics. Reviews of Modern Physics, 38, 447–452.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Block, N. (1986). Advertisement for a semantics for psychology. In P. French, T. Uehling Jr., & H. Wettstein (Eds.), Midwest studies in philosophy vol. 10: Philosophy of mind. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boyd, R. (1988). How to be a moral realist. In G. S. McCord (Ed.), Moral realism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boyd, R. (1991). Realism, anti-foundationalism and the enthusiasm for natural kinds. Philosophical Studies, 61, 127–148.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Boyd, R. (1999). Homeostasis, species and higher taxa. In R. Wilson (Ed.), Species: New interdisciplinary essays. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brandon, R. N. (1990). Adaptation and environment. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cummins, R. (1998). Reflection on reflective equilibrium. In M. DePaul & W. Ramsey (Eds.), Rethinking intuition: The psychology of intuition and its role in philosophical inquiry. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

    Google Scholar 

  • Davidson, D. (1987). Knowing one’s own mind. Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, 60, 441–458.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Descartes, R. (1637). Discours de la Méthode pour Bien Conduire sa Raison & Chercher la Verité dans les Sciences, Leiden.

  • Dretske, F. I. (1988). Explaining behavior: Reasons in a world of causes. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dretske, F. I. (1995). Naturalizing the mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Egan, F. (1999). In defence of narrow mindedness. Mind and Language, 14, 177–194.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Einstein, A., Podolsky, B., & Rosen, N. (1935). Can quantum-mechanical description of physical reality be considered complete? Physical Review, 47, 777–780.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ellis, B. D. (2001). Scientific essentialism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fodor, J. A. (1980). Methodological solipsism considered as a research strategy in cognitive psychology. In Representations: Philosophical essays on the foundations of cognitive science. Brighton: The Harvester Press.

  • Fodor, J. A. (1987). Psychosemantics: The problem of meaning in the philosophy of mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Frisch, M. (2005). Inconsistency, asymmetry, and non-locality: A philosophical investigation of classical electrodynamics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Garcia, J., McGowan, B. J., & Green, K. F. (1972). Biological constraints on conditioning. In A. H. Black & W. F. Prokasky (Eds.), Classical conditioning II: Current theory and research. New York: Appleton-Century Crofts.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gettier, E. (1963). Is justified true belief knowledge? Analysis, 23, 121–123.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goldman, A. I. (1986). Epistemology and cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Griffiths, P. E. (1999). Squaring the circle: Natural kinds with historical essences. In R. Wilson (Ed.), Species: New interdisciplinary essays. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jacob, P. (1997). What minds can do: Intentionality in a non-intentional world. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Keil, F. C. (1989). Concepts, kinds and cognitive development. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kim, J. (1982). Psychophysical supervenience. Philosophical Studies, 41, 51–70.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kim, J. (1992). Multiple realization and the metaphysics of reduction. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 52, 1–26.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kim, J. (1998). Mind in a physical world: An essay on the mind-body problem and mental causation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kornblith, H. (1993). Inductive inference and its natural ground: An essay in naturalistic epistemology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kornblith, H. (1998). The role of intuition in philosophical inquiry: An account with no unnatural ingredients. In M. DePaul & W. Ramsey (Eds.), Rethinking intuition: The psychology of intuition and its role in philosophical inquiry. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kornblith, H. (1999a). In defense of naturalized epistemology. In J. Greco & E. Sosa (Eds.), A blackwell guide to epistemology. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kornblith, H. (1999b). Knowledge in humans and other animals. Philosophical Perspectives, 13, 327–346.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kornblith, H. (2002). Knowledge and its place in nature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kripke, S. A. (1972). Naming and necessity. In D. Davidson & G. Harman (Eds.), Semantics of natural language. Dordrecht: D. Reidel.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lange, M. (2002). An introduction to the philosophy of physics: Locality, fields, energy, and mass. Oxford: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lycan, W. G. (1988). Judgement and justification. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Matthews, G. B. (1980). Philosophy and the young child. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Maudlin, T. (1994). Quantum non-locality and relativity: Metaphysical intimations of modern physics. Oxford: Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mayr, E. (1961). Cause and effect in biology. Science, 131, 1501–1506.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mayr, E. (1982). The growth of biological thought: Diversity, evolution, and inheritance. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Millikan, R. G. (1984a). Naturalist reflections on knowledge. In White queen psychology and other essays for Alice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993.

  • Millikan, R. G. (1984b). Language, thought and other biological categories. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Millikan, R. G. (1989). Biosemantics. Journal of Philosophy, 86, 281–297.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Millikan, R. G. (1993). White queen psychology and other essays for Alice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Okasha, S. (2002). Darwinian metaphysics: Species and the question of essentialism. Synthese, 131, 191–213.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Price, C. (2001). Functions in mind: A theory of intentional content. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Putnam, H. (1975). The meaning of meaning. In K. Gunderson (Ed.), Language, mind and knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Quine, W. V. O. (1960). Word and object. New York: The Technology Press of The Massachusetts Institute of Technology & John Wiley & Sons.

    Google Scholar 

  • Quine, W. V. O. (1961). Reference and modality. In From a logical point of view: 9 logico-philosophical essays (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • Quine, W. V. O. (1969a). Epistemology naturalized. In Ontological relativity and other essays. New York & London: Columbia University Press.

  • Quine, W. V. O. (1969b). Natural kinds. In Ontological relativity and other essays. New York & London: Columbia University Press.

  • Ristau, C. A. (1991). Aspects of the cognitive ethology of an injury-feigning birt, the piping plover. In M. Bekoff & D. Jamieson (Eds.), Readings in animal cognition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shoemaker, S. (1980). Causality and properties. In P. van Inwagen (Ed.), Time and cause. Dordrecht: D. Reidel.

  • Sober, E. (1980). Evolution, population thinking and essentialism. In From a biological point of view: Essays in evolutionary philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Stein, E. (1996). Without good reason: The rationality debate in philosophy and cognitive science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stich, S. P. (1978). Autonomous psychology and the belief-desire thesis. The Monist, 61, 573–591.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stich, S. P. (1983). From folk psychology to cognitive science: A case against belief. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stich, S. P. (1985). Could man be an irrational animal. In H. Kornblith (Ed.), Naturalizing epistemology (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994.

  • Stich, S. P. (1990). The fragmentation of reason: Preface to a pragmatic theory of cognitive evaluation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stich, S. P. (1996). Deconstructing the mind. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wittgenstein, L. (1953). Philosophical investigations. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

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.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Tuomas K. Pernu.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

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

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-007-9192-y

Keywords

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