Michael Welbourne
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 158
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Knowledge gives a clear and accessible overview of the main themes and questions that have provided the context for modern discussions, beginning with Plato and Cartesian individualism. Welbourne examines the various contemporary, tripartite analyses of knowledge in terms of belief, truth, and some form of justification and shows that they fail to adequately capture the idea of knowledge. He argues for a wider view of philosophy of knowledge that includes examination of the surrounding social practices, placing particular emphasis on the notion of testimony. Welbourne argues that knowledge is an essentially a public phenomenon rooted in our communicative practices and shows that thinking about how testimony works as a source of beliefs actually gives us a handle on the idea of knowledge itself. The book will be essential reading for anyone interested in epistemology, the philosophy of language, or the intersection between the two.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8529-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xiv)

    This book is about KNOWLEDGE. More specifically, it is about the very idea of knowledge and its importance in the lives of human beings. That makes it, in the proper sense, an essay in epistemology (Greek for theory of knowledge). But epistemology has come to be practised and even understood, more often than not, in a rather narrow and quite special way. A typical modern definition goes like this: “the part of philosophy which discusses the desirable qualities of beliefs, such as justification, rationality and coherence and the ways in which we can acquire beliefs with these qualities, such as...

  4. 1 Beginning with Plato
    (pp. 1-22)

    Plato was the first philosopher in the Western world to think seriously about the nature of knowledge. To him we owe most, if not all, of our basic philosophical questions on the subject, and he invented one way of addressing the issues which, in the past half century or so, after many hundreds of years, has come to dominate the field. I am going to use him in this chapter to introduce some important themes.

    Plato’s interest in knowledge is twofold. First, it is, for him, one among many proper topics for philosophical enquiry. It is something that human beings...

  5. 2 Analysing knowledge Plato’s way
    (pp. 23-35)

    As we have already noted, Plato’s own response to Meno’s Challenge in the dialogue that bears his name is metaphorical and thin, and it is hard to know what to make of it. It is, however, the first gesture we have in the direction of a tripartite analysis. Socrates puts it forward in the light of the recollection theory that he has just presented as his response to Meno’s Paradox. The idea, it will be remembered, is this: when we ask questions such as “What is knowledge?”, “What is virtue?”, and so on, there is a sense in which we...

  6. 3 Analysing Knowledge the modern way
    (pp. 36-68)

    Plato was an optimist about knowledge: he believed it could be attained and could be taught to other people. To be sure, in theRepublicat any rate, he believed it was beyond the capacities of most of us; but the élite in his republic, the so-called philosophers or philosopher cadets, have both the intellectual power and the right disposition to acquire it. What they need is the right schooling. In the end, in his valedictory work on the topic, he is unable to find a satisfactory account of what exactly knowledge is, and he never adequately works out how...

  7. 4 Public knowledge
    (pp. 69-76)

    How, then, does the concept of knowledge feature in our lives? What uses do we put it to? One thing that may strike us immediately, when we ask such questions, is that knowledge, as we often conceive of it, has a public aspect, an aspect that is liable to be missed entirely when we focus on the task of delivering an analysis of the conditions for some individual’s knowing that P. Consider the uses of the nounknowledge.We often use it to refer to what we seem to think of as a kind of public commodity, something that may...

  8. 5 Learning from testimony
    (pp. 77-92)

    Not all philosophers have taken Barnes’s uncompromising stand. In recent years especially, they have increasingly come to recognize that testimony is, for each of us, an extremely important source of beliefs, and quite a number have recognized that it is often seen as a source of knowledge and have therefore tried to work out how this might be possible. These are the matters we are now going to investigate. Even philosophers who have given up on the project of achieving a satisfactory analysis of knowledge, and who have, on that account, focused on the question how to improve the quality...

  9. 6 The concept of knowledge: a new theory
    (pp. 93-121)

    If I am right, neither Hume nor Reid thinks that the default response to a bit of testimony is to weigh it in the way that one might weigh a bit of inductive evidence. That response is sometimes elicited by special circumstances; there may be reasons for doubting the speaker’s sincerity, in any case there may be reasons for thinking that the events she reports may not be true, there may be conflicts of testimony, and so on. In such circumstances it will be appropriate for a hearer to engage her critical faculties in order to assess the evidential value...

  10. 7 So, why do we value knowledge?
    (pp. 122-128)

    It will be recalled that Plato, in the person of Meno, challenged us to say what it is about knowledge that makes us value it more highly than true beliefs. For creatures like us, mobile and active within the world, true beliefs are hugely important; as agents, we need them in order to achieve our goals, to avoid the impediments that might frustrate us, and to escape the dangers that otherwise might overwhelm us. The problem is, what more can we reasonably want? What has knowledge got that true beliefs lack?

    Plato’s suggestion, in theMeno,is that knowledge is...

  11. A guide to further reading
    (pp. 129-136)
  12. References
    (pp. 137-140)
  13. Index
    (pp. 141-143)