Epistemic closure, assumptions and topics of inquiry
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According to the principle of epistemic closure, knowledge is closed under known implication. The principle is intuitive but it is problematic in some cases. Suppose you know you have hands and you know that ‘I have hands’ implies ‘I am not a brain-in-a-vat’. Does it follow that you know you are not a brain-in-a-vat? It seems not; it should not be so easy to refute skepticism. In this and similar cases, we are confronted with a puzzle: epistemic closure is an intuitive principle, but at times, it does not seem that we know by implication. In response to this puzzle, the literature has been mostly polarized between those who are willing to do away with epistemic closure and those who think we cannot live without it. But there is a third way. Here I formulate a restricted version of the principle of epistemic closure. In the standard version, the principle can range over any proposition; in the restricted version, it can only range over those propositions that are within the limits of a given epistemic inquiry and that do not constitute the underlying assumptions of the inquiry. If we adopt the restricted version, I argue, we can preserve the advantages associated with closure, while at the same time avoiding the puzzle I’ve described. My discussion also yields an insight into the nature of knowledge. I argue that knowledge is best understood as a topic-restricted notion, and that such a conception is a natural one given our limited cognitive resources.
KeywordsAssumption Bounded rationality Contextualism Epistemic closure Knowledge Topic of inquiry
I would like to thank Krista Lawlor, Rahul Chaudhri, Carlos Nunez, Mark Crimmins, Samuel Asarnow, Peter Hawke, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments.
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