Philosophical Studies

, Volume 173, Issue 4, pp 969–990 | Cite as

Perceptual knowledge and relevant alternatives

  • J. Adam CarterEmail author
  • Duncan Pritchard


A very natural view about perceptual knowledge is articulated, one on which perceptual knowledge is closely related to perceptual discrimination, and which fits well with a relevant alternatives account of knowledge. It is shown that this kind of proposal faces a problem (the closure problem), and various options for resolving this difficulty are explored. In light of this discussion, a two-tiered relevant alternatives account of perceptual knowledge is offered which avoids the closure problem. It is further shown how this proposal can: (1) accommodate our intuitions about perceptual knowledge and perceptual discrimination in terms of the notion of primary relevance, (2) give an account of how alternatives can be rationally excluded without appeal to perceptual discrimination in terms of the notion of secondary relevance, and (3) deal with the problem posed by inverted Gettier cases, and hence explain what it means to rationally exclude alternatives which are of secondary relevance.


Perceptual knowledge Relevant alternatives Closure Safety 



We are grateful to James Genone and Katherin Glüer for detailed comments on an earlier version of this paper.


  1. Alfano, M. (2014). What are the bearers of virtues? In H. Sarkissian & J. Cole Wright (Eds.), Advances in experimental moral psychology, Chap. 5. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  2. Alston, W. P. (1986). Internalism and externalism in epistemology. Philosophical Topics, 14, 179–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bergmann, M. (2006). Justification without awareness: A defense of epistemic externalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Black, T. (2002). A Moorean response to brain-in-a-vat scepticism. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 80, 148–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Black, T. (2003). The relevant alternatives theory and missed clues. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 81, 96–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brueckner, A. (2003). What missed clues cases show. Analysis, 63, 303–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carroll, L. (1895). What the tortoise said to Achilles. Mind, 4, 278–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Carter, J. A. (2013). Relativism, knowledge and understanding. Episteme. doi: 10.1017/epi.2013.45.
  9. Carter, J. A., & Gordon, E. C. (2013). A new manoeuvre against the epistemic relativist. Synthese. doi: 10.1007/s11229-013-0357-2.
  10. Choi, S. (2008). Dispositional properties and counterfactual conditionals. Mind, 117, 795–841.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Choi, S., & Fara, M. (2014). Dispositions. In E. Zalta (Ed.), Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy.
  12. Cohen, S. (1988). How to be a Fallibilist. Philosophical Perspectives, 2, 91–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dretske, F. (1970). Epistemic operators. Journal of Philosophy, 67, 1007–1023.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dretske, F. (2005a). The case against closure. In E. Sosa & M. Steup (Eds.), Contemporary debates in epistemology (pp. 13–26). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  15. Dretske, F. (2005b). Reply to Hawthorne. In E. Sosa & M. Steup (Eds.), Contemporary debates in epistemology (pp. 43–46). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  16. Engel, P. (2007). Dummett, Achilles and the tortoise. In R. E. Auxier & L. E. Hahn (Eds.), The philosophy of Michael Dummett (pp. 725–746). Chicago, IL: Open Court.Google Scholar
  17. Goldberg, S. (2015). Should have known. Synthese, 1–32. doi: 10.1007/s11229-015-0662-z.
  18. Grimm, S. (2012). The value of understanding. Philosophy Compass, 7, 103–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Grimm, S. (2014). Understanding as knowledge of causes. In A. Fairweather (Ed.), Virtue Epistemology Naturalized (pp. 329–345). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  20. Hawthorne, J. (2005). The case for closure. In E. Sosa & M. Steup (Eds.), Contemporary debates in epistemology (pp. 26–43). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  21. Kitcher, P. (2002). Scientific knowledge. In P. Moser (Ed.), Oxford handbook of epistemology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Kvanvig, J. (2010). The value of understanding. In A. Pritchard, D. H. Haddock, & A. Millar (Eds.), Epistemic value (pp. 95–112). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Lackey, J. (2010). Testimonial knowledge. In S. Bernecker & D. H. Pritchard (Eds.), Routledge companion to epistemology (pp. 316–325). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  24. Lewis, D. (1973). Counterfactuals. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  25. Lewis, D. (1996). Elusive knowledge. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 74, 549–567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lewis, D. (1997). Finkish dispositions. Philosophical Quarterly, 47, 143–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lipton, P. (2004). Inference to the best explanation. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  28. Nozick, R. (1981). Philosophical explanations. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.Google Scholar
  29. Pritchard, D. H. (2002). Radical scepticism epistemological externalism, and closure. Theoria, 68, 129–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pritchard, D. H. (2005). Epistemic luck. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Pritchard, D. H. (2008a). Knowing the answer understanding and epistemic value. Grazer Philosophische Studien, 77, 325–339.Google Scholar
  32. Pritchard, D. H. (2008b). Sensitivity, safety, and anti-luck epistemology. In J. Greco (Ed.), Oxford handbook of scepticism (pp. 437–455). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Pritchard, D. H. (2009). Knowledge, understanding and epistemic value. In A. O’Hear (Ed.), Epistemology (Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures) (pp. 19–43). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Pritchard, D. H. (2010). Relevant alternatives perceptual knowledge and discrimination. Noûs, 44, 245–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Pritchard, D. H. (2012). Epistemological disjunctivism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Pritchard, D. H. (2014). Knowledge and understanding. In A. Fairweather (Ed.), Virtue Epistemology Naturalized (pp. 315–329). Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  37. Pritchard, D. H., Millar, A., & Haddock, A. (2010). The nature and value of knowledge: Three investigations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ryle, G. (1945). Knowing how and knowing that. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 46, 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Schaffer, J. (2001). Knowledge relevant alternatives and missed clues. Analysis, 61, 202–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Schaffer, J. (2005). Contrastive knowledge. In T. Gendler & J. Hawthorne (Eds.), Oxford studies in epistemology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Sosa, E. (1999). How to defeat opposition to moore. Philosophical Perspectives, 13, 141–154.Google Scholar
  42. Sosa, E. (2007). A virtue epistemology: Apt belief and reflective knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Stalnaker, R. (1968). A theory of conditionals. In N. Rescher (Ed.), Studies in logical theory (pp. 98–112). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  44. Turri, J. (2011). Manifest failure: The gettier problem solved. Philosophers’ Imprint, 11, 1–22.Google Scholar
  45. Weber, M. (1997). Presumptive Red Maple (Acer rubrum) toxicosis in Grevy’s zebra (Equus grevyi). Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, 28, 105–118.Google Scholar
  46. Williams, M. (1991). Unnatural doubts: Epistemological realism and the basis of scepticism. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  47. Williamson, T. (2000). Knowledge and its limits. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Wright, C. J. G. (2003). Some reflections on the acquisition of warrant by inference. In S. Nuccetelli (Ed.), New essays on semantic externalism and self-knowledge. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of EdinburghEdinburghUK

Personalised recommendations