harman_review - Reflections on Knowledge and its Limits *...

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Unformatted text preview: Reflections on Knowledge and its Limits * Gilbert Harman Princeton University June 9, 2003 Williamsons Knowledge and its Limits is the most important philosoph- ical discussion of knowledge in many years. It sets the agenda for episte- mology for the next decade and beyond. The main thesis of the book is knowledge first. One aspect of this thesis is that knowledge is a basic mental state, a propositional attitude that cannot be explained in terms of belief plus certain other conditions. Given that knowledge counts as a mental state, it follows that people who are internal physical duplicates can be in different mental states. Since a person in a good normal situation of veridical perception knows things that are not known by a person who is internally a duplicate but externally * Timothy Williamson, Knowledge and its Limits , (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. xi, 340. I am indebted to Elizabeth Harman and Mark Greenberg for very useful extensive comments on earlier drafts. 1 in a bad sceptical situation like being a brain-in-a-vat or being perfectly deceived by an evil demon, the person in the good situation has different mental states from the internal duplicate in the bad situation. Williamson rejects what he calls the internalist conception of mind. Williamson argues for several further points. Psychological explanations that appeal to what a person knows cannot always be replaced by equally good explanations in terms of beliefs and environmental conditions. Our mental states are not luminous, that is, we do not always know whether or not we are in a given mental state. Knowledge typically involves a margin for error. Knowing that one knows typically involves an additional margin and so the KK-thesis is false: one might know without knowing one knows. The margin for error condition on knowledge is to be distinguished from a tracking or counter-factual sensitivity requirement. More speculatively, Williamson identifies a persons total evidence with what the person knows, E = K . Since a person in a bad brain in a vat or evil demon situation does not know as much as a person in the correspond- ing good situation in which things are as they seem, two people who are internally the same can fail to have the same evidence. Since what it is ra- tional or reasonable to believe depends on ones evidence, what it is rational to believe in the bad sceptical situation differs from what it is rational to 2 believe in the good normal situation. Evidential probability is conditional probability on ones evidence, so everything one knows has a probability of one. Although some of these claims may seem quite counter-intuitive, Williamson defends them and other ideas with the highest level of philosophical argu- ment. I cannot in my remarks do justice to all or even a sizable number of Williamsons themes and arguments. Instead I will take up three is- sues. First, I want to argue that, even if Williamson is right in his main...
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This note was uploaded on 08/01/2008 for the course PHIL 290 taught by Professor Fitelson during the Fall '06 term at University of California, Berkeley.

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harman_review - Reflections on Knowledge and its Limits *...

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