In some recent work, (Williams Analysis, 75(2), 213–217, 2015, Logos and Episteme, 7(1), 83–94, 2016) John N.Williams defends a new objection to the defeasibility theory of knowledge. But the objection is of wider interest, since Williams also suggests that this style of objection may undermine other theories of knowledge. I distinguish two versions of Williams’ objection. I then show that the first version relies on false conceptual principles, and the second relies on a specific and dubious conception of the goal of the analysis of knowledge.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
As is unfortunately typical in presentations of “theories” or “analyses” of knowledge, I do not specify what modal status this biconditional has. I return to this important issue later.
For a more sophisticated characterization of an epistemic defeater in the context of the defeasibility theory, see Klein (1986: 261-269).
Borges (2016) argues that we need not know a priori that condition (iv) is satisfied to know that we know. But the argument from CP does not require that stronger claim (Williams 2016: 90–93). Unfortunately, Williams’ presentation of the argument encourages the stronger reading since he supplies only examples where the satisfaction of condition (iv) can be known a priori. In my view, this is more evidence that Williams is not sensitive to the distinction between CP and CP*, introduced below. An argument from CP* would require a priori knowledge of the satisfaction of (iv), if conceptual truths are knowable only a priori.
This justification assumes that being a necessary condition of falling under a concept entails partly constituting being an instance of that concept, in Williams’ sense.
S’s belief that P is safe just in case if S were to believe P, then P would not be false.
See the sentence immediately after he introduces CP for evidence of this (Williams 2015: 215).
This complaint is echoed by Ichikawa and Steup (2018):
In practice, many epistemologists engaging in the project of analyzing knowledge leave these metaphilosophical interpretive questions unresolved; attempted analyses, and counterexamples thereto, are often proposed without its being made explicit whether the claims are intended as metaphysical or conceptual ones.
See Sosa (2017) for an explicit endorsement of the metaphysical project in contrast to the conceptual one.
In this vein, consider the following somewhat monstrous more recent version of the distinctive defeasibilist fourth condition on knowledge:
If [justifier] e is true, then there is no genuine defeater of the propositional justification of any of the propositions in the evidential path up to and including e and there is no genuine defeater of the propositional justification of any proposition between e and h; if e is false, then there is no genuine defeater of the propositional justification of any of the propositions in the evidential path up to and including t and there is no genuine defeater of the propositional justification of any proposition between t and h, where t is defined by Conditions 1–7. (Klein 2008: 49–50)
Is it at all plausible that young children possess these concepts and that this condition is conceptually prior to knowledge?
Borges, R. (2016). A failed twist to an old problem: A reply to John N. Williams. Logos and Episteme, 7(1), 75–81.
de Almeida, C. (2017). Knowledge, benign falsehoods, and the Gettier problem. In R. Borges, C. de Almeida, & P. Klein (Eds.), Explaining knowledge: New essays on the Gettier problem (pp. 292–311). Oxford University Press.
de Almeida, C., & Fett, J. R. (2016). Defeasibility and Gettierization: A reminder. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 94(1), 152–169.
Fitelson, B., Borges, R., & Braden, C. (Eds.). (2019). Themes from Klein. Springer International Publishing.
Ichikawa, J. J., & Steup, M. (2018). The analysis of knowledge. In E. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Klein, P. (1986). Immune belief systems. Philosophical Topics, 14(1), 259–280.
Klein, P. (2008). Useful false beliefs. In Q. Smith (Ed.), Epistemology: New essays (pp. 25–63). Oxford University Press.
Klein, P. (2017). The nature of knowledge. In R. Borges, C. de Almeida, & P. Klein (Eds.), Explaining knowledge: New essays on the Gettier problem (pp. 35–56). Oxford University Press.
Sosa, E. (2017). The metaphysical Gettier problem and the X-Phi critique. In R. Borges, C. de Almeida, & P. Klein (Eds.), Explaining knowledge: New essays on the Gettier problem (pp. 232–242). Oxford University Press.
Williams, J. N. (2015). Not knowing you know: A new objection to the defeasibility theory of knowledge. Analysis, 75(2), 213–217.
Williams, J. N. (2016). Still a new problem for defeasibility: A rejoinder to Borges. Logos and Episteme, 7(1), 83–94.
My thanks to Janet Levin, James Van Cleve, and an anonymous referee for helpful comments.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Gordon, N. What Does It Take to Know that You Know?. Acta Anal 36, 443–449 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12136-020-00456-8
- Defeasibility theory
- Analysis of knowledge
- Conceptual analysis
- Metaphysical analysis