Truth, Success and Frank Ramsey


Richard Marshall interviews Pascal Engel in 3:AM Magazine [Photo: Claire Poinsignon]:

3:AM: As an epistemologist do you think knowledge is elusive because the term is empty, and would that be an approach developed out of your work on Ramsey’s principle, (which I’ll ask about in a minute)?

PE: I do not take knowledge to be elusive or empty. On the contrary, it seems to me to designate a bona fide natural kind, although not one which is easy to pin down. Unlike contextualists, I take expressions such as “knowledge” or “knows” to be invariant across contexts (although I do not deny a certain amount of context sensitivity in our epistemic terms). In the current jargon I am an insensitive invariantist. Unlike eliminativists about knowledge, among whom I count a number of experimental philosophers, I do not think it is an empty term. I do not think, however, that knowledge can be defined through a set of necessary and sufficient conditions. This I take to be one of the lessons of Gettierology.

This does not mean that there is nothing to say about knowledge and that epistemologists have to pack up and leave. Although knowledge cannot be defined in the strict sense of this term, we can still characterize it functionally, through its relationships with other notions, such as those of justification, evidence, reliability, or safety, and we can try to give explanations and theories about these notions. Thus it makes sense to ask whether internalism or externalism about knowledge are correct, whether reliabilism or evidentialism are correct, and to work out the best versions of these.

I also take it that , although the analysis of knowledge is basically a conceptual and a priori matter, we can learn a lot (although not everything) from cognitive science, ethology and especially from developmental psychology about what knowledge is. These issues cannot be dealt with only at the level of an account of knowledge in general, but have to be dealt with about particular kinds of knowledge depending on its sources (perceptual, inferential, testimonial, a priori) and of its domain (natural, scientific, moral, aesthetic). Perhaps there is no single account which works fully for all domains, but I take it that they have a number of traits in common (in this respect the shape of the issues is pretty much like for truth, which can vary across domains, but keeps a functionalist core)

Ramsey’s ideas about knowledge, which were in many ways pioneering, are perfectly consistent with this functionalist account.

More here.