Saturday, April 2, 2016

Knowledge, Persons, and Explanation

In my previous post, I offered a clearer way of delineating different theories of explanation. I suggested that we treat epistemic theories of explanation as a subset of pragmatic theories of explanation. Here are the relevant claims:
A theory of explanation is epistemic iffdf according to T, there exists a statement of the form x explains why y” that is true relative to a knowledge corpus K1 and not true relative to another knowledge corpus K2. 
A theory of explanation is pragmatic iffdf according to T, there exists a statement of the form x explains whyy” that is true relative to a person S1 and not true relative to another person S2. 
Stipulation: If a statement is relative to a knowledge corpus, then it is relative to a person.
As I noted, this stipulation requires defense. Here is an initial motivation: knowledge is frequently predicated of people. For instance, John knows that it is raining. This, of course, is also how a majority of professional epistemologists conceive of knowledge. Hence, a knowledge corpus will refer to a/the set of propositions known by an agent.

To be sure, knowledge is sometimes conceived more abstractly, e.g. as a set of propositions rather than a set of states predicated of persons. However, this conception is unstable: it will either collapse into a kind of ontic theory or a kind of pragmatic theory. Let's illustrate this with the idea that knowledge is a justified true proposition. Either this justification is propositional, i.e. it refers to a relation between propositions (p justifies q); or it is doxastic, i.e. it refers to whether a belief is justified (S is justified in believing that q). (This is a common distinction in the epistemological literature.) If justification is propositional, then epistemic theories collapse into a kind of ontic theory. While traditional ontic theories invoke more concrete entities, such as events, mechanisms, causes, etc., epistemic theories would invoke abstract entities such as propositions and whatever relations realize the "propositional justification role." However, to my knowledge, traditional ontic theories have never banned abstract properties and entities.

So, what then, if we think of justification as doxastic? This will lead to my desired result: knowledge becomes characteristic of a person. After all, it's S's belief that is justified, and S is a person.

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